Bears’ running back competition is one to watch

Bears training camp is less than a month away and all eyes will be on Chicago this summer. The Bears have the No. 1 overall draft pick in Caleb Williams, and they will be the featured team on HBO’s “Hard Knocks.”

It’s a good time to be a Bears fan.

Also taking center stage during camp, which begins July 19, will be the position battles. The Bears added significant talent to the roster in the offseason, and that’s only going to make it harder for some players to win starting jobs.

Among the top position battles will be at running back. Here’s a preview.

Returning players: Khalil Herbert, Roschon Johnson, Travis Homer

Departed players: D’Onta Foreman

Newcomers: D’Andre Swift, Ian Wheeler

Why it’s worth watching: It’s not going to be a surprise who the top running back in this group is. The Bears committed three years and $24 million to D’Andre Swift in free agency. They wouldn’t do that unless they intended for him to be the workhorse of this group.

But that doesn’t mean this position isn’t intriguing. Nobody knows exactly how the Bears will divide the touches between Swift and the other backs. Fourth-year pro Khalil Herbert returns in the final year of his contract. Also returning is 2023 fourth-round draft pick Roschon Johnson, as well as special teams contributor Travis Homer. The Bears also added Ian Wheeler, an undrafted rookie from Howard University.

The big question here is whether the Bears have soured on Herbert or is he truly the No. 2 option in this backfield? Herbert went into 2023 as the lead back, but an ankle injury in October sidelined him for five games. He didn’t resume lead back duties again until late in the season.

Behind Herbert is Johnson, whom the Bears selected with the 115th overall draft pick last year. Johnson appeared in 15 games but never made a start. He totaled 352 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 81 carries as a rookie. He also caught 34 passes for 209 receiving yards.

Johnson has the advantage of being drafted by the current Bears front office. He also has three years of team control remaining. Herbert was drafted by the old regime and has only one year remaining on his contract. It could be in the Bears’ long-term interest to give Johnson more opportunities. At the same time, Herbert has been one of the most efficient running backs in the league over the past two seasons.

As is often the case with the running back position, injuries will probably play a part in 2024. Realistically, the Bears will probably need all three top running backs at various points this season.

Swift is certain to lead this group. But what shakes out behind him remains unclear.

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